Vikes good even in a ‘down’ year

By: Rich Fisher
   The best indication of how far the South Brunswick volleyball program has come, is to think that this past season might have been considered a "down" year.
   It was a campaign in which the Vikings went 17-5, finished second in the Greater Middlesex Conference division of the Central Jersey Volleyball League, and reached the NJSIAA Group IV Tournament and the GMC Tournament finals for the third consecutive season.
   If that’s a "down" year, then this is an "up" program.
   Actually, the only reason it could be considered a down year is that, for the first time since the program started, the Vikings did not increase their win total from the previous season. And, after winning the GMC tournament title and tying for the GMC Division title last year, the Vikes were runners-up to East Brunswick in both departments.
   But let’s face it. Most teams would kill to be down like this.
   "The record indicates it was a good season," coach Nancy McDonald said. "The four girls who we returned to the court, who had been on that winning team the year before, brought a lot of spirit and focus to what went on during the season. Even when things got bad, they’d been in those situations before and were able to pull together and work it out."
   The Vikes went with an iron-girl lineup that pretty much featured the same six players for most of the matches. They consisted of seniors Lauren Ellis and Janelle Payne, juniors Jordan Confessore, April Thomas and Nikki Weiss and sophomore Kacy Kelly. Senior Vanessa Cruz was unable to contribute due to a torn ACL early in the season.
   Confessore blossomed this season, leading the team in service points (140), aces (70), kills (92) and assists (130). She earned the team MVP award and was named All-Conference along with Thomas and Payne.
   "She was my best player on the court in all areas," McDonald said. "She was always around the ball, whether attacking or setting or serving.
   "But without any one of the other five, it’s not the same team. It wasn’t necessarily her dominating every game, it was the chemistry of everyone around her."
   Thomas shared the setting duties with Confessore and was second in assists (123), service points (118) and aces (60). She averaged three kills per game.
   Weiss was the team leader in digs, averaging 3.5 per game, and was third in service points with 113. Payne led in blocks with 33 and Ellis had 23.
   "I had good people blocking," McDonald said. "It didn’t matter who was up front, I got blocks from those blockers.
   "Lauren Ellis had a great season after her injuries and everything she’s been through in her high school career. She came back to earn a starting spot and was definitely an asset."
   Kelly filled in at the outside hitter spot, which opened up when Cruz got hurt.
   "Kacy needed to get some maturity and experience at that varsity level, and she did a nice job," McDonald said. "Kacy had 14 service points in a game against South Plainfield early in the year, and also had four kills and four aces. That showed she was the player to fit in there. She ironed out some nerve issues that she had the first couple games of the year."
   Other players who saw time this season were juniors Jen Seck, Kim Casalvieri and Jessica Belsky. Junior Katie Hilosky was felled by a season-ending injury.
   "All those girls are going to be valuable next year," McDonald said. "They got limited varsity time, but they played a lot on JV. I saw a lot of improvement in Kim, she was able to go in and sub as an outside hitter when I need her.
   "I look for those four returning starters and the reserves to all come back and be strong. The future is bright."
   Indeed it is, as the JV team finished 14-4, getting strong play from setters Erin O’Brien and Melissa Curcio. Sarah Johnson and Lindsay Silvestro also helped out along with Nicolette Datri.
   "That was basically a sophomore oriented team up from the freshman team," McDonald said.
   This year’s freshman team went 6-9, and had some bright spots in Jess Strincoski, Emily Gabriel, Jessica Petrefessa and Katie Rolwood.
   "We seem to have a pretty good thing going now," McDonald said. "This year, East Brunswick was just the better team. They beat us three times, you have to resolve yourself to the fact they’re the better team."
   That may be so, but even in a down year, South Brunswick can still consider itself a better team than anyone in the GMC but East Brunswick.
   KILLS: Thomas was the team’s Offensive Player of the Year, Payne was the Defensive Player of the Year and Ellis was Most Improved.